Authors: Patti Berg
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without permission in writing from the author, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review. This book may not be resold or uploaded for distribution to others.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.
Originally published as
Till the End of Time
First published in the United States by Jove Books 19
First e-book edition: April 2012
Second e-book edition: November 2012
Third e-book edition as
: March 2013
Cover design: Dar Albert
Author photo: Bob Berg
For Bob and Melanie—
the magic in my life.
Table of Contents
icy wind snaked its way along the main street of Sapphire, Montana, a swirl of powdered snow following in its wake. It slithered uneasily around the old, abandoned hotel, past the ornamental hitching posts in front of the First National Bank, slowly meandering across the road and up the steps, circling about the boots of the man standing in the doorway of the Tin Cup Cafe.
Jonathan Winchester shivered in the cold, turning up the collar of his rawhide and lamb’s wool coat to ward off the bitter January chill. He tucked his chin into the fleece hugging his neck and let the brim of his Stetson shield his face from a sudden blast of frosty air. But his eyes didn’t turn away from the cold; instead, they stayed focused on the snow-and-mud-crusted red Jeep Cherokee sliding to a stop in front of the Sapphire Hotel.
The new owner had finally arrived.
For the life of him, Jon couldn’t imagine why anyone would buy that old hotel unless they’d been sold a damn fine bill of goods by that cousin of his. Wouldn’t be the first time Matt had sold a worthless piece of property; wouldn’t be the last.
But the Sapphire Hotel? Hell, it was nothing more than a hundred-
plus-year-old relic of the town’s better days. It hadn’t been fit for human occupancy in half a century and would be better off torn down, or left empty and uninhabited—at least, by anything human. Jon laughed at his thought, and a cloud formed in front of his face from the warmth of his breath. He’d dispensed with thinking the hotel might be haunted when he was a kid. He didn’t believe in ghosts. And he never would—not again.
But a movement in the hotel’s third-story window drew his attention, bringing all the old memories back to the surface, and he gave in to those thoughts for just a brief moment. He looked upward, to the top of the weather
-beaten building. The remnants of a tattered pair of curtains swayed gently behind the broken glass. Only the wind, he decided. He hadn’t expected anything else—not a phantom, not a spirit, not a lost soul haunting the upstairs rooms. Only the wind. Yet that one small movement made him wonder anew if what had happened all those years ago might have been real.
Again he laughed, pushing the thoughts away, and turned his attention to the movement inside the Jeep. Through the fog-coated driver’s side window he could just barely make out the woman’s form, could see her struggling into a parka and pulling a hood over her head.
Leaning a shoulder against the jamb, he watched as the car door cracked open, then whipped out of the woman’s hands in the force of another burst of wind. She quickly reached out and grabbed the handle, stopping the door before it broke from its
hinges, but the force of the gale yanked her body halfway out of the vehicle, and she held on tightly to the handle for balance. A knee-high red leather boot swung from the car, then another, both heels digging into the ice-and-snow-crusted ground before the warmly bundled driver climbed out.
Jon grinned as he watched her struggling against the wind and snow and the heavy door. Somehow she shoved it closed, slipping on the ice, catching hold of the handle again to keep from falling to the ground. She labored to stand up straight, and Jon gave a moment’s thought to offering her help. It seemed wrong to stand and stare, to laugh at her expense. But, hell! She was wearing hooker boots in the middle of winter. What was she thinking? They might be practical on some sleazy big-city street corner, but they had no business on the icy roads of Sapphire.
No, Jon would rather stand back and watch, laughing softly to himself.
The humor disappeared, though, the moment the hood she wore blew away from her face, revealing a woman Jon thought he’d seen before—in his dreams. He’d seen her in books, too, in oil paintings by the Old Masters, in marble statues—a goddess with ebony hair; high, noble cheekbones; sensuous red lips. Damn! Even a blind man could caress the planes of her face and see her beauty.
Jon didn’t believe in love at first sight any more than he believed in ghosts, but he knew instinctively he’d been waiting for this woman all his life. She was the woman he’d wanted to sculpt, the woman whose curves he’d wanted to study and mold. The woman whose beauty he’d longed to
have stretched out, naked, on a chaise in his studio.
Slowly, methodically, he moved away from the cafe’s door to the edge of the snow-dusted boardwalk. He watched her even more closely as she rounded the car, one hand on the hood for support to keep from sliding on the treacherous pavement.
Tall. Very tall, especially in those heels. She had great legs, too, encased in black pants that hugged her right up to her thighs. Then, unfortunately, the body he could picture just in his mind disappeared under that furry red parka.
Only a greenhorn would wear a get-up like that in the harsh
Montana winter. She should be wearing heavily treaded boots, at least until she could learn how to walk on the frozen ground. On second thought, he was beginning to like those three-inch spiked heels. Again he thought about that imaginary woman on the chaise in his studio, but this time she wasn’t completely naked. No, that red leather hugged her ankles and calves and stopped just at her knees. The rest of her porcelain-skinned body radiated in the natural light that beamed from all corners of his solitary turret.
It didn’t seem possible that a stranger could mesmerize him so, but she had. Much, much more than any woman he’d ever known.
Jon sucked in a deep breath of icy air, letting it out slowly as he studied her movements, just as he would study any other being he planned to sketch and mold. He’d sculpted eagles and mountain men, grizzlies and buffalo, but he’d never created a woman in bronze.
But he would.
Elizabeth Fitzgerald ground her spiked heels into the snow and ice at the base of the hotel’s steps and tilted her head upward, using her hand to block the wind from her eyes as she inspected the ancient structure. Gingerbread dripped from the overhangs on all three levels, and scallops of wood rimmed the windows and embellished the facade of the once proud Victorian. Salmon paint had flaked off the walls, forest green stiles were missing from the porch railing that wrapped around the building, and where the roof wasn’t covered with six inches of snow, loose shingles hung haphazardly on the steepled slopes.
So, this is the hotel that brother of mine talked me into buying.
Elizabeth shook her head and sighed deeply, wondering what kind of mess Eric had gotten her into this time. She took another quick look and smiled. At least the old place was standing—something she couldn’t say about the house she’d left behind in Los Angeles.
She put a hand on the wobbly banister and inched her way up the stairs of her new home. It was far from the picture of perfection her brother had painted of a Victorian masterpiece. “You’ll love it, Ellie,” he’d told her. “It’s the perfect place for those antiques you love to buy. We’ll turn it into a country inn and you can test your gourmet food out on someone other than me.”
Eric’s excitement had rung out loud and clear. She’d heard his words, gotten caught up in his enthusiasm, and given him the money to buy the place without checking it out herself.